1948-1954 The MV Beaverbrae Ship
Voyage to Canada
Immigrants Arrive in Canada
Our group is comprised largely of German speaking people from the Baltic area and of people who have befriended our community, who have been befriended by us, and who enjoy our community. Our traditions, customs, languages, and togetherness stem from a combined European and Canadian history: our group has settled within Canada over roughly the last 60 years. The society was established to support the wave of immigrants but has survived in a different form, namely, for friendship and fellowship. Our purpose has been to maintain the friendship ties within the group with the benefits of keeping alive our communal and familial histories.
On August 23rd 1939 the German and Russian Governments signed the infamous Non Aggression Pact and trade agreement (a.k.a. the Hitler-Stalin pact). What the world did not know was that this pact included a secret paragraph, which divided Eastern Europe into two “spheres of interest” between Russia and Germany. For Russia this included Eastern Poland, the Baltic States and even Finland. For Germany it was Western Poland. This pact gave Germany the needed backing to declare war on Poland and to invade.
The first inkling of these secret plans came with the annexation of Eastern Poland by the Soviet Union on Sept. 17th. The Baltic Germans became very concerned and sent a delegation of the three presidents of the Baltic German Associations, Dr. Weiss, Mr. Intelmann and Dr. Kröger to Berlin to find out what was going on. On September 25th Dr. Kröger met with Himmler who confirmed their worst fears.
He impressed on Himmler that the very existence of the Baltic Germans would be in great danger if the Baltic States were annexed by the Soviet Union. They had experienced this at the end of World War I when they had been imprisoned, executed and deported by the Bolsheviks in 1918-19.
These arguments were successful and on September 28th the German Government sent a telegram to its foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was in Moscow negotiating with Molotov. A second addendum to the original pact was worked out which allowed all ethnic German minorities in the Russian “sphere of interest” to emigrate to Germany by December 31st 1939.
On the same day, the Russian Government issued an ultimatum to Estonia to grant military bases to the Soviet Union. On Oct. 5th the same ultimatum was issued to Latvia. The two states had to accept and the local population became apprehensive.
On Oct. 2nd. the Baltic German Councils received the official notification of the planned repatriation and to make the necessary preparations. This was followed by a speech by Hitler on Oct. 6th. The German Government would negotiate with the Estonian and Latvian governments, it would send ships for the transportation of the repatriates and set up receiving stations in Germany and organize the resettlement. All other preparations had to be handled by the Baltic Germans themselves. They accomplished this task remarkably well and fast and by the end of December an estimated 80,000 Baltic Germans had left their homeland.
They had expected to be settled in Germany, but it turned out that Hitler had decided to use them as settlers in the newly conquered Western part of Poland, called the Warthegau. From there they had to flee in Jan. 1945 before the advancing Russian Army. The Umsiedlung ended the 700 year history of the life of the German minority in the Baltic Lands.
Not all eligible Baltic Germans joined the Umsiedlung. Some stayed behind for personal reasons, some Lutheran Ministers did not want to abandon their Latvian congregations. Some had Jewish relatives and some were so opposed to the Nazi regime that they refused to go to Germany.
However, after experiencing the communist regime, most of them were desperate to leave. The German Government decided in August 1940 to arrange a second repatriation called “die Nachumsiedlung”. New negotiations with Moscow started in September 1940 and a treaty was finally worked out in January 1941. Two delegations, both consisting of a German and a Russian one were set up in Reval and Riga to carry out the selections of the eligible people. The Russians were trying their best to hinder the operations and the Germans accepting as many applicants as possible (including an estimated 3,500 Estonians and Latvians). It became a real poker game.
The German members of the delegations were mainly Baltic Germans who, knowing the Russian mentality and speaking the language were quite successful. My father, Consul Otto Eckert was in charge of the delegation in Riga.
In the end an estimated 68,000 people were repatriated: 7,000 from Estonia, 10,500 from Latvia and 50,300 from Lithuania. The transportation was done by ship and rail. However, there were far more restrictions for these repatriates. They were not allowed to take with them items of value, for example only 500 grams of silver. Of course people tried to smuggle, but the Russian officials were quite experienced and caught many. My father told me the story of somebody who had hidden loose pearls in a tube of toothpaste and was found out. Also these people did not get the same compensations in Germany as the first group and were only settled in Germany.
Ref: Jürgen von Hehn: Umsiedlung der baltischen Deutschen. Marburg, 1984